Monday 10th May Parliament is still prorogued until the Queen’s Speech, so I take the chance to visit some schools across the country. In Derby I meet the super local MP, Amanda Solloway, at a special school for primary school children which focuses on children who are not severely disabled but have struggled in mainstream school due to their special needs. They are thriving in this small setting, and clearly enjoying learning. The school has spent the extra funds they have received for recovery and very wisely on extra therapies that the children missed out on due to the pandemic. The headteacher tells me that ideally he would like small schools like this to be located on a mainstream school site, so the children can have the specialist curriculum that they need but still meet with their peers. This is something that I am working on as Minister for Children.
We then visit the Royal School for the Deaf, where over lunch the children tell me about their school life and ambitions for the future. A group of sixth formers are spending their lunch time preparing for their driving theory tests, this can be a barrier for deaf students as reading can be a huge challenge when one cannot “hear” words.
Then onto Nottingham and to the UK’s largest secondary school to meet the mental health support team. We are rolling out these teams in over one third of the schools across the country. I hear from two students and their families how the early support for mental health issues gave them the confidence to continue with school when they were struggling with deep anxiety. The Government has committed to train a mental health lead in every school over the next three years, and it is good to be able to announce the first year for funding for this project.
Tuesday 11th May In London the flags are flying high for the Queen, but the roads are completely empty around Parliament Square, groups of police officers stand on every corner. Usually the Commons is packed for the Queen’s Speech but this year like most MPs I listen to the Queen on the TV. There is much to celebrate in the speech which sets out the priorities for the Government over the months ahead. I am particularly pleased by the Skills Bill which will not only unlock new opportunities for younger people but also brings a life long learning offer so that people of all ages can learn new skills and start new careers. The Health and Social Care Bill is also announced, as well as the Online Harms Bill which will make life safer online, especially for children. Many people in Chelmsford write to me about animal welfare, so it is good to see a new Bill coming to strengthen laws to protect animals. In the Department I catch up with other ministers.
Wednesday 12th May A long day in the Department, including a helpful meeting with the President of the Family Courts. Covid has caused delays to our courts, but the judges have been sitting longer hours in order to make up. They have been particularly focusing on minimising delays to adoption children as no one wants these children to have to wait longer before starting life with a new family. I meet children and young people who are working with the organisation “Bite Back” to share notes and thoughts on improving school food. In the evening I meet the Chelmsford residents of one of the buildings affected by cladding and fire safety. There is good news as most of the repairs to this building will be covered by the Governments Fire Safety Fund.
Thursday 13th May Another school visit, this time to a primary school to meet the reception aged children who are getting extra language support from the Nuffield Early Language Intervention. We have offered this intervention to schools as part of the Governments catch-up tutoring programme and over 40% of schools with a reception class have taken it up, nearly quarter of a million children have been screened and over 60,000 children are taking part. I see first hand how the project works with small groups of children and hear how in just a few weeks these children have gone from finding it a challenge to speak words to now chatting in full sentences. This is great news as without this support these children would have struggled throughout their school journey. We are now rolling out the project to even more schools up and down the country. In the House of Commons I take my turn on the front bench listening to the debate on the Queens Speech and finish the day with another evening meeting with leaseholders from another Chelmsford block of flats. There are around half a dozen blocks affected by cladding in Chelmsford and I am determined to do what I can to help each one.
Friday 14th May My Chelmsford day starts with the weekly call with the Vaccine Minister and includes a wonderful online assembly with the year 6 group from Our Lady Immaculate Primary School when they rapid fire brilliant questions. The day is packed with meetings with developers, constructors and management companies of three more Chelmsford blocks of flats, but I escape at lunch time for a quick visit to the Indoor Market. It is buzzing, and so good to see the happy faces of customers and stall holders and some new stalls. Chatting away I stock up with fruit, veg, cheese and a box of plants to cheer up the garden. Do visit the market it’s one of Chelmsford’s great treasures. The afternoon brings a busy constituency surgery and a meeting with Highways England to discuss the plans for the new Junction 19 on the A12.
I end the week with an uplifting online meeting with a very thoughtful group of residents from Chelmsford who are interested in family policy, education, mental health support for young people and the curriculum. Thank you so much to Sister Moira and Sister Margaret from Melbourne for bringing this group together. They do so much for the local community and families.